Now is the season for sending gifts in Japan as the Ochuugen season kicks off in summer. Ever wondered why and how this custom came about and the things to take note of when buying gifts? Read on to learn more about Ochuugen!
In Japan, there are two major gift-giving seasons – the Ochuugen and the Oseibo, which take place in the middle and end of the year respectively. Depending on the region, the dates may differ slightly. In the Eastern Japan region including Kanto, the Ochuugen season is between early July and the 15th of July. On the other hand, the Western Japan region including Kansai will have a later start from late July to the 15th of August. Note that you should keep these dates in mind to ensure that your recipients will get the gifts during the specific Ochuugen period based on where they reside at.
The purpose of giving gifts during this season is to express gratitude and thanks to the people who have taken care of you such as your parents, siblings, relatives, in-laws, close friends, superiors and colleagues at work, clients, teachers, instructors or trainers and wish for their well-being. However, there are some companies which ban such gift-giving practices and some people in certain occupations, like school teachers, may not be allowed to accept such presents so you may need to check on this before preparing your gifts. It has become commonplace for people to prepare gifts for the Oseibo season only, but if you plan to give something to the same people during both seasons, take note that the gifts for Oseibo should be more expensive than that for the Ochuugen.
The Ochuugen actually originated from the Taoism rituals in China of celebrating the birthdays of the Dragon King’s grandsons who managed the Jougen, Chuugen, and Kagen which took place on the 15th of January, the 15th of July, and the 15th of October in the lunar calendar. The Chuugen used to be a day for humans to repent for their sins wherein fires were kept burning throughout the whole day in honor of the gods. Later, it became a day to seek forgiveness for the deceased’s sins. Although in Buddhism, the Chuugen was a day when people prayed to the spirits of their ancestors. Gradually, the Taoism and Buddhism customs evolved to become the Obon rituals in Japan and later led to the development of the gift-giving custom during Ochuugen. With the adoption of the Western calendar, the date of the Ochuugen has been shifted to the 15th of August (around the same day as the 15th of July in the lunar calendar) where you can see an almost-full moon in the night sky.
Generally, food and drinks are the preferred choices for Ochuugen. As it is hot during this season, items which can bring cooling respite from the heat such as beer, cold snacks and food such as meat and fruits which are good sources for building stamina are the top choices. Although you can choose to give merchandise vouchers as a gift which allows the recipients to buy what they want, this is often seen as not being sincere enough and doesn’t reflect the preferences and tastes of the person sending the gift. In fact, it is considered rude to be giving vouchers to people who are more senior than you, or giving underwear to the elderly so please take note of these potential pitfalls.
If you are unable to bring the gifts directly to the intended recipient, many stores will be able to arrange free delivery for you. Usually, there is an option for you to arrange for a note to be included with the package or you can send it separately from the parcel but it is important to ensure that the note arrives around the same time as your present. It is also recommended for you to mention in your note what you have sent and the date when it’s expected to be delivered as a reference for the recipient to know who sent what to them. The packaging of the gift typically comes with a red or gold bow with the words “Ochuugen” written on it so you can write your name underneath these words.
In the event that the recipient is in mourning or has encountered something unpleasant recently, you can still send a gift to that person. However, in consideration of the recipient’s circumstances, it is suggested that you should send the gift as a “shochuumimai” or “zanshomimai” instead. These are gifts to ask after someone’s health during summer or late summer rather than as an Ochuugen present. Under such circumstances, it is fine for the recipient to respond with only a letter of thanks, or send back a present of equal value to the person who had sent the gift. Conversely, the recipient can choose to reject Ochuugen gifts by informing the sender in advance or by asking for the timing of the gifts to be delayed.
As for how much to spend on your gifts, it depends on the nature of your relationship with the recipient. Typically, gifts for family members, friends, and relatives should be priced between 3,000 yen and 5,000 yen. As for colleagues and superiors at work, the market rate is about 5,000 yen, but if it’s someone who has been of great help to you at the workplace, the budget can be revised upwards to between 7,000 yen and 10,000 yen.
In recent years, many people have resorted to using phone calls to thank the senders of the Ochuugen gifts but it is recommended that you follow up with a letter of thanks which is seen as being more polite. In addition, handwritten notes are preferred as a sign of sincerity as compared to those printed from computers. As such, even if you think that your handwriting doesn’t look so good, it is still best to write the thank-you note personally. As for people who are higher than you in terms of positions at work or social status, a letter of thanks is a must.
In case you are still undecided over what to buy as your Ochuugen gifts, why not look at four of the bestselling items from departmental stores and online portals to get some inspiration?
At Takashimaya, the bestselling item is Sembikiya’s fruit jelly set as shown in the picture above. In case you are not aware, Sembikiya is a very famous fruit store chain which was established in 1834.
Daimaru has separate rankings depending on the price range of its gifts. But here is one of the No. 1 items featured, the New York Morning set from Gramercy New York. This set contains jelly and baked pastries like cheesecake.
Ever tried waffle cakes before? Here is an assorted set containing 10 different flavors from Waffle Cake no Mise R.L. which is sold on Amazon Japan. Depending on the delivery date, the flavors in the set will be changed. Do take note though that there will be an additional delivery charge if you are sending this to someone living in Hokkaido or Okinawa.
If you want something personalized, Aeon has this option where you can choose one item from the Irodori set and two items from the Hana set. The items available for selection include meat, seafood, fruits, desserts, and beverages.
After reading about the Ochuugen custom in Japan, are you ready to go out and do some shopping? Have fun exploring the wide array of gifts on offer this season and good luck in securing the best deals for the people you would like to thank!